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Kathryn Rem: Red-and-white foods perfect for the season

Kathryn Rem

The iconic holiday pairing of red and white isn’t reserved only for Santa suits and Christmas lights. It also shows up in the food of the season. Think candy canes, red velvet cake and peppermint ice cream.

Spice maker McCormick named vanilla and the color red one of the “ultimate holiday flavor pairings” for 2009. (The others are ginger and molasses, peppermint and chocolate, warm spices and pumpkin and nutmeg and rum.)

And to drive the point home, the company sponsored an interactive online cooking demonstration earlier this month with executive pastry chef Gale Gand. She’s an owner of the four-star Chicago restaurant TRU, author of several cookbooks and former host “Sweet Dreams,” the Food Network’s first all-dessert show.

During the hour-long, online demo — free to anyone who wanted to log on – Gand prepared four recipes. In keeping with the red-and-white theme, she made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, red coconut snowballs (a cream cheese-based candy), hot chocolate with red sugar-crusted marshmallows and chocolate-dipped pretzels garnished with red sugar.

“What says ‘holiday’ more than red and vanilla?” Gand asked, who wore red clothes and cooked in a red kitchen during the program. (The recipes are at www.mccormick.com).

I probably won’t be making the recipes, which she touted as kid favorites, but I was interested in the tips she dispensed while mixing and measuring. Among them:

- Add a little cinnamon to hot chocolate “to make it more exotic.”

- Once hot chocolate cools a little, add vanilla extract to give it “warmth and richness.”

- To garnish a cup for hot cocoa, dip the rim in corn syrup and then red sugar.

- Melt chocolate in a double boiler; microwaves have hot spots that cause uneven heating.

- Crush candy canes in a zip-top bag by hitting the bag with a rolling pin.

- Do messy decorating on a shower curtain; shake it outside when done.

- Put the measuring spoon over the bowl when measuring vanilla. “If we over-measure, it will slosh into the right place.”

- Buy butter on sale and freeze it.

- Color coconut by putting it in a zip-top bag with a little food coloring. Squish the contents around with your fingers.

- Instead of having a dinner party, consider a less-daunting dessert party with a buffet of sweets and hot beverages.

- Use an eggshell to remove a speck of shell from broken eggs. Shell attracts shell.

- If powdered sugar is fresh, you don’t need to sift it.

- Create a makeshift tiered platter by stacking plates and upside-down glass mugs.

Gand, who sells her own vanilla-infused root beer under the Gale’s Root Beer label, waxed lovingly during the demo about the nuances that vanilla extract adds to sweets. In fact, she said she loved the smell so much when she was younger that she dabbed it behind her ears like perfume.

That said, it’s not hard to understand why she wound up as a pastry chef.

Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.